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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   30 July [1856]1

Down Bromley Kent

July 30

My dear Hooker

Your letter is of much value to me. I was not able to get definite answer from Lyell, as you will see in enclosed letters,2 though I inferred that he thought nothing of my arguments. Had it not been for this correspondence, I shd. have written sadly too strongly. You may rely on it I shall put my doubts modestly.3 There never was such a predicament as mine; here you continental extensionists would remove enormous difficulties opposed to me, & yet I cannot honestly admit the doctrine, & must therefore says so.— I cannot get over the fact that not a fragment of secondary or palæozoic rock has been found on any isld. above 500 or 600 miles from a mainland.— You rather misunderstand me when you think I doubt the possibility of subsidence of 20, or 30,000 feet; it is only probability; considering such evidence as we have independently of distribution.— I have not yet worked out in full detail the distribution of mammalia both identical & allied with respect to the one element of depth of the sea;4 but as far as I have gone, the results are to me surprisingly accordant with my most troublesome belief in not such great geographical changes as you believe; & in Mammalia we certainly know more of means of distribution that in any other class.— Nothing is so vexatious to me, as so constantly finding myself drawing different conclusions from better judges than myself, from the same facts.

I fancy I have lately removed many (not geographical) great difficulties opposed to my notions, but God knows it may be all hallucination.—

Please return Lyells letters.— What a capital letter of Lyell’s that to you is,5 & what a wonderful man he is.— I differ from him greatly in thinking that those who believe that species are not fixed will multiply specific names:6 I know in my own case my most frequent source of doubt was whether others would not think this or that was a God-created Barnacle & surely deserved a name. Otherwise I shd. only have thought whether the amount of difference & permanence was sufficient to justify a name:7 I am, also, surprised at his thinking it immaterial whether species are absolute or not:8 whenever it is proved that they all species are produced by generation, by laws of change what good evidence we shall have of the gaps in formations. And what a science Natural History will be, when we are in our graves, when all the laws of change are thought one of the most important parts of Natural History. I cannot conceive why Lyell thinks such notions as mine or of Vestiges, will invalidate specific centres.9 But I must not run on & take up your time. My M.S. will not I fear be copied before you go abroad.

With hearty thanks | Ever yours | C. Darwin

Do pray keep the crossing doctrine occasionally before your mind.10

What a capital party you will be abroad.—11

After giving much condensed my argument versus continental extensions, I shall append some such sentence, as that two better judges than myself have considered these arguments & attach no weight to them.—


Dated by the reference to the exchange of letters between CD and Charles Lyell on continental extensions (see n. 2, below).
It seems probable that CD had sent to Hooker the original manuscripts of Lyell’s letters to CD (letters from Charles Lyell, 17 June 1856 and [1 July 1856]) and copies of his replies to Lyell, 25 June [1856] and 5 July [1856]. The copies are now bound in DAR 114.3 following letters 165 and 167, respectively.
In the chapters on geographical distribution in Natural selection and Origin, CD made it clear that he disagreed with the theory of continental extensions because he could not admit the vast geographical changes it required, but in the main he contented himself with showing that the geographical distribution of species, particularly those on oceanic islands, could be better explained by various means of dispersal. Although he admitted that many difficult problems of distribution remained, CD maintained that none was insuperable and that a theory of migration or transportal from single centres of creation better accounted for the facts and raised fewer problems than theories invoking continuous land masses or multiple creations.
The relationship is discussed in Origin, pp. 395–6.
A reference to a letter from Charles Lyell to J. D. Hooker, dated 25 July 1856 (K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 214–17). Lyell had discussed the definition of species entailed in Hooker’s introductory essay (J. D. Hooker 1853–5, 1: vii–xii) and how CD’s views on geographical distribution and transmutation were difficult for Lyell to accept.
Lyell had complained to Hooker that if naturalists believed that the ‘boundaries of species are … artificial, or mere human inventions,’ as CD’s theory seemed to require, there would be no check to the proliferation of species in catalogues. Lyell felt that so long as species-multipliers ‘feared that a species might turn out to be a separate and independent creation, they might feel checked; but once abandon this article of faith, and every man becomes his own infallible Pope.’ (K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 214–15).
CD refers to the difficulty he experienced in defining species in his monograph on the Cirripedia. See Correspondence vol. 5, letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 September [1853].
Lyell had stated that: ‘In truth it is quite immaterial to you or me which creed proves true, for it is like the astronomical question still controverted, whether our sun and our whole system is on its way to the constellation Hercules.’ (K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 215).
Lyell had written: ‘I fear much that if Darwin argues that species are phantoms, he will also have to admit that single centres of dispersion are phantoms also’ (K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 216). Lyell based much of his geological work on the idea that groups of species spread out from a single geographical source while remaining constant in form: deposits were considered to be the same age if their fossils were of identical species.
The Hookers were about to leave for a holiday in Switzerland (see letter from Asa Gray, [early August 1856]).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1853–5. Flora Novæ-Zelandiæ. 2 vols. Pt 2 of The botany of the Antarctic voyage of HM discovery ships Erebus and Terror, in the years 1839–1843, under the command of Captain Sir James Clark Ross. London: Lovell Reeve.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.


CD’s predicament with continental extensions: they would remove argument for multiple creations, yet he opposes the doctrine. Lyell will not express an opinion on this.

Lyell fears mutability would lead to more specific names.

Encloses copy of letters to Lyell [1910 and 1917].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 114: 172, 165, and 167
Physical description
ALS 8pp encls 10pp, 7pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1933,” accessed on 28 May 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6